The Irish Tradition

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First published in 1947, these celebrated lectures and introductions to the medieval and modern Gaelic-speaking culture, which was drawing to a close when Flower first came to Ireland in 1910, form a primary source for generations of scholars and readers, Celticists and medievalists. This edition is accompanied by Professor Delargy’s In Memoriam and an updated bibliography of Flower’s works.

‘The Irish Tradition will perpetuate Robin Flower’s memory among all educated Irishmen. It is the one book on Irish literature which can be recommended without reserve to everyone who wishes for a true, accurate and sympathetic account of a beauty that once permeated the lives of kings, monks and men of learning, but which now survives perilously only among the rocks and heather of the West.’
The Irish Times

‘It has more knowledge and thought and light than almost any other modern book about Irish literature.’
The Irish Press

‘Scholarly, knowledgeable and loving, these lectures provide a rare combination of intellectual satisfaction and plain enjoyment.’
– Sean Dunne, Cork Examiner

ROBIN FLOWER was Deputy-Keeper of Manuscripts in the British Museum from 1929 to 1944 and a lifelong visitor to the Blasket Islands in Kerry. His books include the Catalogue of Irish Manuscripts in the British Museum (Vol.II, 1926), The Western Island (1944), and a translation of The Islandman (1934) by Tomáis O Criomhthain.

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1 review for The Irish Tradition

  1. Rated 5 out of 5

    Lilliput Press

    “Dr. Robin Flower’s title was Deputy-Keeper of Manuscripts in the British Museum. This task he fulfilled well between 1929 and 1944. He died at 65 in 1946, unable to complete his projected book on the history of Irish literature. My sorrow, our sorrow on this because Robin Flower was a great lover entirely of Irish language, history, stories, and poetry. Some he learned from his wide reading in at least eight languages, some he learned from the manuscripts he curated, and much did he gather from the people of Great Blasket to whom he was Blaithin—Blossom–and their friend.

    This book brings together essays Flower had already written and speeches given, in an approximation of the projected fuller history. The seven chapters begin in Irish prehistory, The Founding of the Tradition, and continue through Exiles & Hermits, The Rise of the Bardic Order, The Bardic Heritage, Ireland and Medieval Europe, Love’s Bitter-Sweet, and The End of the Tradition. Each chapter is rich in authoritative consideration of what was happening and why, as Irish literature flourished and then by the 17th century, evolved from the old bardic tradition to what styles and roles were contemporary for the time. The older roles and older beauties still live, perhaps, a deep true river, in the work of such Irish poets as Seamus Heaney and writers such as James Joyce.

    Footnoted and scholarly, here and there somewhat academic in style, the chapters none-the-less are the work of a poet that Flower so clearly was. Understandable enough touch of academc dryness, since most chapters derive from presentations to scholarly audiences and articles in scholarly journals.

    They delight us most, perhaps, when they break into the poems preserved in the manuscripts. Here, for example, Flower introduces the exquisite poem, Pangur Ban, and offers his own unexcelled translation:

    “This is the first example we have in manuscript of the personal poetry of the Irish and it is very characteristic that the verses should be concerned with the antics of a scholar’s cat. One is reminded of the quaint cat that twists its elongated form on the first page of the contemporary Irish Stowe Missal. This is the poem in which the student tells us of this companion:

    I and Pangur Ban my cat
    Tis a like task we are at
    Hunting mice is his delight
    Hunting words I sit all night….

    Practice every day has made
    Pangur perfect in his trade;
    I get wisdom day and night
    Turning darkness into light.

    “Turning darkness into light” is the title of the exhibit at Trinity College in Dublin, in which the Book of Kells and other Irish manuscript treasures are displayed. Appropriate words for this legacy of beauty, and appropriate honor for the man whose own scholarship is made accessible to us in this treasure of a book.

    It is the best source most of us have for Dr. Flowers’ work and for much of the stories and poems that trace this aspect of Irish history.

    Highly recommended with no reservations, and some amazement at the relatively low price for so much compassion, such great knowledge. There are other books for lovers of Irish stories such as Lady Augusta Gregory’s collection; this one sets these jewels in their context.”

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